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Remastered ‘Half-Life 2’ Coming to Vive & Rift with VR Controller Support via Revamped Mod

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Praised as one of the greatest games ever made, the 13 year old Half-Life 2 is a lauded piece of gaming history. But soon you’ll be able to revisit the perils of City 17 using the latest and greatest VR hardware around. A reborn mod project is bringing compatibility for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive with full motion input support, remastered visuals, a made-for-VR UI, realistic weapon interactions, and more.

Those who have been following the modern VR era since the beginning may recall the original HLVR mod launched in 2013 that was well ahead of it’s time, offering motion-controller input via the Razer Hydra, literally years before Oculus or Valve would announce their own VR controllers. Here’s some gameplay from the original mod played on the Rift DK1.

Back then we said that the mod “turned Half-Life 2 into one of the best virtual reality experiences available today.” Sadly, it wouldn’t last. While Valve had added support for the Rift development kits to their Source engine, as the software that the headsets relied on advanced over time, Valve didn’t update the Source implementation, leading to the present situation which is that the mod can’t be played on anything but old development kit headsets.

A Mod Reborn

After several years of the mod in dormancy, members of the original mod, with some new help, have devised a method to make the mod work with the latest Rift and Vive. Watch the trailer above. Not only will it allow players to step into the world of Half-Life 2 in VR, it will also add motion controller support to make the game function much like a modern VR title. The mod team is further promising the following:

  • HDR lighting
  • Updated effects, textures, models & maps
  • A made for VR UI
  • Realistic weapon interactions
  • Multiple VR locomotion methods

The mod team is sensibly calling the package Half-Life 2: VR (not to be confused with the original mod’s name, HLVR). It will be released entirely for free, though it does require a copy of Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 & 2 to work correctly. Luckily you can pick up all three, along with Portal (2007) for the entirely reasonable price of $20 via The Orange Box.

But in order to launch the Half-Life 2: VR mod on Steam for a simple one-click installation, the team needs your help. The group has launched a Steam Greenlight campaign for the project, which allows the community to vote on those which they think should be allowed to be distributed through Steam. Head over to the page to vote for the mod if you’d like to step into the shoes of Gordon Freeman in VR.

Half-Life 2: VR on Steam Greenlight

Motion Input on Modern VR Controllers

Perhaps one of the coolest parts of the Half-Life 2: VR mod is the ability to feel like you’re really wielding the game’s arsenal of memorable weapons. Because the game was originally a flat first-person-shooter, the mod team had to rebuild many of the weapons to be viewed from any angle now that players can hold them in any position.

They also went one step further, adding realistic reloading gestures. Several weapons require additional actions from the player to complete the reload. The .357 Magnum Revolver, for instance, requires the player tilt the gun up to dump out the spent cartridges, then swing the chamber back into place with a flick—much like the reload mechanism of Dead & Buried.

And yes, you can physically swing the Crowbar to break boxes and kill enemies.

The team has described the current set of reload operations as “gesture-like”, but say they plan to build these out further over time, making them more realistic. Work is already underway for a motion-based pump-reload on the Shotgun (yes please).

Presently, guns are linked to your right hand (as per the original programming), but the team plans to offer ambidextrous support in the future and make the two-handed weapons wieldable with input from both hands.

Behind the Tech


Speaking to the team behind the Half-Life 2: VR mod, we learned more about the technical issues which halted development of the original mod several years back. Two of the new members—who go by pseudonyms Marulu and Street Rat—are responsible for developing a key hack that would make it possible to bring Half-Life 2 to modern VR headsets.

“The Source engine is DirectX 9 only which does not allow texture sharing and is not supported by any of the new VR APIs [which the modern VR headsets rely on],” Marulu told me. “Oculus and SteamVR both need DirectX 10+. Valve thus abandoned [VR support in Source] and left it in the [Rift] DK2 ‘extended’ state based on a old SteamVR version.”

That meant that official VR support in Source-based games like Half-Life 2 never made the jump to the consumer Vive and Rift headsets. That is until Marulu developed a technique to send frames directly to the new VR APIs; a hack which he teases was actually developed for another “secret project” that hasn’t yet been announced.

“We hacked that support to gain control over it and using my special rendering code I send the DirectX frames in low latency directly to the VR SDKs. It should be as low latency as native DirectX 11 rendering. This code was developed by me for my secret project, which will launch soon, and was reused for the Half-Life 2: VR mod.”



Speaking with WormSlayer, a long-time member of the VR community, and one of the authors of the original mod, I learned how Half-Life 2: VR has been remastered—in many cases hand-tuned across some 90 maps for increased fidelity—over the course of two years.

“After Half-Life 2 was released [in 2004], [Valve] added a bunch of new features to the engine, like HDR lighting, which were used in the Episodes,” he explained. “So I updated all of the levels to use that, and some other features like accurate shadows from static meshes, and also went through and hand-optimised the resolution of the shadow maps everywhere. I fixed countless misaligned textures, little gaps in the level geometry, etc.”

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Episode 1 & 2 on the Way

Although Episode 1 and 2 are required for the installation (because of some shared assets), the initial release of the mod will launch only with compatibility for the full Half-Life 2 campaign. The team has confirmed that Episode 1 and Episode 2 are due to get the same VR treatment. They’re also considering multiplayer/co-op support but haven’t committed to delivering that just yet.

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